These days, 10 is practically the new teenas knowing, and as confused, an age. You think you understand who you are, but you don't, not really. You want to be independent, but you still need adult supervision. You are developing a sense of righteousness, but find it runs up against a pragmatic world where compromise is a necessity. Ten is a neat number, but a messy stage in life.
So it is with Hong Kong. At just past midnight on July 1, 1997, in a glittering and poignant ceremony, Hong Kong passed from being the last jewel of an old empire to a component of a new global power. Hong Kong people viewed their city's handover from the U.K. to China with mixed feelings: joy at a fresh start; sadness at seeing the British go; pride over returning to the motherland; apprehension over the future. Today, by most measures, Hong Kong is in great shape, but its outward appearance masks a collective angst. As the territory marks its first decade as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China, it faces an interlocking set of existential questions from which all its once and future challenges flow: Who am I? What do I want to be? Can I be all that I want to be? Will I be allowed to?
For better, and for worse, Hong Kong's future is tied to China's. The one is among the world's freest societies, wildly entrepreneurial and fiercely independent in spirit. The other is a state that, to its enormous credit, has opened up a long-closed nation to an unprecedented degree, and lifted more people out of poverty in a shorter time than our planet has ever witnessedbut which is still authoritarian in its governance, somewhat lawless, and woefully corrupt. Though hugely different in scale, the two learn from, depend on, influence and to an extent intimidate each other. Each needs the other to prosper, yet each also sees the other as potentially harmful. Beijing has fretted about its SAR infecting the mainland with annoying ideas like democracy. Those in Hong Kong worry about China restricting their freedoms, and being a crucible for pollution and disease that can spread to their city. The subtext of this complex relationship is another host of vexing questions. Is Hong Kong a model for China, or a threat? Is Hong Kong changing China, or China changing Hong Kong? Should Hong Kong become more Chinese or more international? "Hong Kongers have no problem being culturally Chinese, but because of their history, many of them still see themselves as Hong Kong Chinese first, differentiated from mainland Chinese," says Zhang Longxi, chair professor of comparative literature and translation at City University of Hong Kong. "That is Hong Kong's strength, and weakness."
Hong Kong matters not only because it is a vital driveshaft of the global economy, transmitting the raw power of China's manufacturing capability into a worldwide system for distributing consumer goods. The city matters because it is a unique experiment that will probably succeed but could possibly fail: the creation of a free, international city within China. In the short period since a collection of fishing villages were turned into a modern metropolis, Hong Kong has survived war, waves of refugees, pestilence, drought, assorted mischief by local leftists and economic near-implosions, consistently defying the doomsayers, repeatedly rebounding. In the past 10 years alone, Hong Kong has lived through a crippling regional financial crisis, bird flu, SARS, an inept albeit well-meaning leader who was forced to leave office, the resignation of several other top officials over sundry scandals, and, in 2003, the march of half a million people galvanized by their opposition to a new security bill called Article 23an event some feared would finally provoke Beijing into asserting its authority over Hong Kong once and for all. The city's run of luck has often seemed near the end; TIME's sister magazine FORTUNE once infamously, and incorrectly, predicted that its return to China would bring about its death.
Yet Hong Kong is more alive than ever. On the eve of the handover, the stock market index, a key barometer of Hong Kong's health, stood at the then record of 15,200; today it hovers near the 21,000 mark. Property pricesin many ways the best measure of the territory's success because they are followed so closely by the man (and woman) on the Kowloon minibusdipped after the handover and again after SARS, but are now once again rising to stratospheric levels. "Things did not come to a grinding halt in 1997," says Sir David Akers-Jones, 80, a former acting governor who stayed on in Hong Kong after retiring. "Things continued. That was the extraordinary thing. Life went on."
But not, of course, in the way it had. Neither China nor its SAR has stood still in the past 10 years. Once, Hong Kong's preeminent preoccupation was the pursuit of wealth, and the place remains obsessed with money. (Only in Hong Kong would the website for an investment seminar be www.icanrich.hk.) As it becomes ever richer, however, Hong Kong has realized that there's more to life than making a fortune. A civil-society movement has come into being, agitating about everything from the filthy air (though it is probably the cleanest of all China's cities) to preserving old buildings to helping the poor. But this change, welcome and often inspiring though it is, does not help Hong Kong settle its true challenge: how to define its relationship with China, one that is pregnant with conflicting emotionsadmiration and resentment, loyalty and mistrust, love and fear. "The return of Hong Kong to China is just half achieved," says Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a self-professed Chinese nationalist. "Hong Kong is still regarded as a special place of China, still regarded as a foreign country. Hong Kong has returned in name, but not in substance."
Hong Kong, it should be said, has always been a Chinese city. Even during the 156 years during whichthrough a combination of British protection, Hong Kong ambition and Chinese noninterventionthe territory grew into one of the world's foremost commercial and financial centers, its non-Chinese population, now about 7% out of total of some 7 million, was never more than a tiny minority. Unlike other colonies, Hong Kong never fell for the idea that its mother country was a damp set of islands in the North Atlantic whose people played cricketit always had a perfectly good mother country of its own.
Yet Hong Kong, China, doesn't roll off the tongue. Hong Kong is simply Hong Kongit is singular, as modern China's patriarch Deng Xiaoping recognized when he struck a deal with the British in 1984 establishing the principle of "one country, two systems." Quite apart from that special dispensation, wise policymakers in Beijing have long recognized that sentiment toward China in Hong Kong is fragmented. Many of Hong Kong's families, it must be remembered, are headed by those who fled communism and conflict on the mainland for the freedoms and safety of the British colony. Today's pride in belonging to China, accentuated by the mainland's rise as a world power, is tempered with wariness. (The 1989 Tiananmen killings still haunt Hong Kong as a recurring nightmare of the old new China; every June 4, those who died are commemorated in a moving candlelight vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park.) There's plenty of emotional baggage to go around, and plenty of uncertainty because of it. "Hong Kong's in a transition period," says David Zweig, director of the Center on China's Transnational Relations at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "It's experimenting with political change. Its business community is trying to seek out its future. Its demographics are in flux. It's even asking what languages it should be speaking."
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